Up, down, and in between: A competition debrief

The first two competitions of the season have come and gone, and left me realizing that I am out of shape– and have a lot to learn. We’ve made our debut in the jumper ring, and said our farewells to the hunters. We’ve dealt with rain and heat, and been tested by new challenges. I’ve found new muscles, and realized the stark differences between the riding styles required in the different rings. Here’s a run down of the highs and lows over the last two weekends!
My most rewarding day was definitely my first day at Ride of Rides, during Red River Exhibition. This was in the sand ring, and the first day brought gorgeous weather and fun courses. I competed in the .85m (2’9″ft) and the .90m (3ft) jumpers. That day may have been a classic case of beginners luck- I came away with 2nd and 3rd in the .85m open and Junior Amateur classes, and another 2nd and 3rd in the .90m classes. Everything seemed to go without a hitch, although I was feeling quite out of shape after round 1 (and 2, 3, 4). Compared to what I’ve been used to (8 jump hunter courses), a 11 jump course that requires a very active riding style, plus a immediate jump off course (additional 7 jumps for speed) felt like a marathon (in all reality it was more like a 500m sprint x 8). The second day of competition brought literally all the rain, making for a sloppy ring. Our first round of the day in the .85 brought a decent course until about jump 9.. where Willard caught the back rail of a wide-ish and stumbled upon landing, causing me to slide off the side into the quicksand below..landing on my back for some nice whiplash effects. The next 15 minutes were spent with the medics, who quickly realized that I wasn’t going to agree to stop competing for the day. I promptly signed the refusal of treatment form and hopped on to go back into my next .85m.. this time I ran a double clear for 3rd place. Warming up for my .90m that day, Mr. Will did exactly the same thing and stumbled me into the biggest puddle in the warm up ring after a oxer. Sigh. This time I landed face first (mid tuck and roll), and fully exfoliated my entire body (without the spa experience). In my own true style, I managed to bruise my ribs and make my rotator cuff very unhappy. Thankfully the medics already knew my name. This stunt caused M to grumble “enough playing in the sand for you today” and scratch me from my .90m.. which I was thankful for. I was also quite thankful that day three of the competition was cancelled due to torrential rain.
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Half recovered and not at all refreshed, we headed into the next competition 4 days later. Warm-ups felt great, minus my complaining ribs and surrounding muscles. This time we competed in just .90m jumpers, and then did the Child/Adult/Non-pro Hunters (3ft) so I could compete in the Hunter Derby. This meant Saturday had 5 courses between rings (2 jumper, 3 hunter). Our jumper rounds were a little sketchy. The combination of me not being horribly effective as a rider, both myself and Will’s confidence still being shaken from the previous weekend, and the courses being much more challenging then we’d experienced before brought some new lessons. The jumper courses on Saturday featured a lovely combination going away from the gate to a long one stride (for Will anyway)– vertical to a wide oxer, and then 4-5 strides to a scary skinny plank jump that featured a pair of wide smiling cartoon lips on it. It was rare to see any horse and rider combo get through this combination with complete grace over the weekend. Our first course was half decent until getting around to this combination. Will got into the one stride okay, but didn’t make the distance to the out oxer with much confidence (mostly my fault) and had to chip and leap to get out- unseating me in the process. I recovered on landing, but not well enough to set him up for the teeth that came up pretty darn quick, resulting in him taking the left side run out. No blame on him for this, my riding instilled absolutely no confidence for him to draw off! We came back to it no problem and completed the course. The second course started out the same way, and this time Will took a great distance into the one stride, but stopped at the out jump.. he really wasn’t giving me any breaks this weekend. Coming back for attempt two,  we added into the one stride and got through the rest of the course okay.
Our hunter rounds that day started out equally as sketchy. This is where the stark differences in riding style became very obvious to me. Both of us forgot how to ride a hunter course, and with this lines being built pretty long (again) we were presented wth a challenge. Our first course came with adding to each line. Which was okay, as I really wasn’t trying to compete in this division- I was just required to enter it if I wanted to do the derby. Our handy course in the division was built for us, though. Set to all our strengths, the course involved no set lines, and was full of roll back turns and bending lines. Yay! This was definitely one of the best hunter courses I’ve ridden in my entire career thus far. We both clicked back into the hunter rhythm. I was able to loop the reins, sit into a half-seat and let Will do his thing over the course. We placed 2nd in this course! This definitely made up for our somewhat frustrating jumpers earlier in the day, and reminded me that I can actually ride worth something. The derby started up at the end of the day, and our course was great- except for our unlucky rail at jump #2. For those who are unfamiliar with derby scoring, a rail automatically lowers your score to 40/100. So although we had an excellent round, we were out of luck for placing.. I ended the day with a 56/100 after bonus points for handiness and high point option jumps being added. Through all his grumbling about me doing hunters this weekend, M even gave me a “tough luck, kid” after that round. M’s statement from last year: “you have to be lucky to be good, and good to be lucky” was ringing in my ears after day one at Summer Smiles.
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Day two left us with just two jumper courses. Much to my chagrin there was a two stride and a one stride in the day’s courses (some part of my brain was hoping they would omit any challenging combinations from the courses…). We started out with each of us giving each other mixed signals through the first course. Jumps 1-7 went okay, with some unnecessary lazy rails on Will’s part. 8A-B brought a one stride, which Will promptly halted right before, for no apparent reason other then lack of confidence. He came back to it and did it fine with an add (again, felt pretty long). Around to the two stride we got through with an add again, and then looping back to the final line (oxer on the outside rail 7strides to the lovely teeth jump…which was conveniently placed right beside a group of endurance horses tied to trailers). Through sloppy riding on my part, and an uninterested horse, we ran out the left again. Course 1, incomplete. Warming up for round two, in an attempt to wake myself and my horse up (after grumbling a motivational, “c’mon girl get riding!”), M set the warm-up fences a good few inches above course height. So, with me muttering “holy shit, M” under my breath in the strides leading up to the warm-up fence- we kicked ourselves into gear and Will clumsily knocked it over first and then over jumped it the second time (goal accomplished, M). The next class brought a lovely round- actually- with a confident add in the one stride (no point fighting for it at this point!) and a beautiful two stride. Around to that dreaded final line again we went, this time getting in okay but Will was having non of the teeth endurance horse combo, and my legs were apparently non-existent. So we stopped, and I flew off the side. Classy finale, team, classy finale. I, however, have chosen to omit that jump from the course- and as a result am quite pleased with how we finished off.
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So, as you can probably tell, competition two was a little more challenging then competition one. But competition one was a little more painful and wet then competition two. They both had their ups and downs. The biggest lesson I learned is that it is absolutely impossible to be an effective rider with stiff, bruised ribs on one side. It 100% affects one’s ability to be fluid and therefore confident in the tack. C picked up on that from a field distance away, and commented that I wasn’t riding as well as I could be, and queried as to whether my leg was okay or if I was sore from the previous weekend still. The leg is fine, even though we’ve had some issues with proprioception over the last few weeks– taping is helping with that. The soreness definitely was a factor, and I’m sure I will be going through rider bootcamp in the next two weeks in prep for the next show (Beach Party!). Leading up to both these past competitions, I wasn’t able to be in the tack as much as I wished- which lead to the resultant fatigued horse and rider. We learned how much we still have to learn, but also how much we’ve progressed. M&C are continuously challenging us which is exactly what we asked for this year, and I am loving it- even if it comes with small frustrations along the way!

 

It was hot, then it got hotter

Another season has come to an end in the hunter jumper world. And I have absolutely no complaints about anything that happened this season. It was for sure another up and down kind of summer for me, but the consistency I saw in my rides in the shows I was able to go to is truly encouraging- and the way my rides when this weekend at Fall Harvest sums up, as this show always seems to, how much I’ve progressed.

Our warm-ups Friday went by with ease. We warmed up in the hunter ring first, and were probably done in about 20 minutes- everything went so smoothly! C and I were wondering how it was going to go, as the night before during my lesson Willard seemed to have taken the equivalent of 50 caffeine shots. It was a little bit crazy. But, I guess either the heat took some of that out of him Friday, or he actually just chilled out a bit- because he actually acknowledged the human on his back this time. After jumping around the hunter ring, we headed over to the Jumper ring.. Our first jumper school at Bird’s Hill (or anywhere.. usually there either isn’t a jumper schooling or I miss it..). It was pretty intimidating, even with Lauren and Megg there with me. Lauren is an old pro at jumper schools, and Megg was there for the first time on her new horse. My horse surprised me with how well he handled everything. I expected him to be good for the jumps, but wasn’t sure how he would handle the natural obstacles such as the ditch and the bank/table top jumps. The ditch took a couple tries to get him to gallop down and jump out with confidence, but not as long as I thought- and the bank, well, he just loved that! Loved it so much that when we did the table top ride (jump up, three strides, jump down), he decided that it was so much fun he need to buck his way across- hop down- and buck away. Hokay pony. That evening Megg and I went out for a lovely supper. One of my favourite parts of shows is getting to spend time with the amazing friends I’ve made through training with M&C.

Saturday came bright and early with Jumpers beginning first thing. Will and I were competing in the .85m divisions. We went into the ring with the mentality of “ride like it’s a lesson”, and had no major issues. Will loves jumpers. Saturday we placed 4th in our .85 Junior Ami division, with a rail and a time fault. Later that day we moved over to the hunter ring for our Child/Ami Non-Pro Hunter division. We put in some good rounds and ended up top 5 in both over fences and the under saddle. Quite respectable for the competition there, and the fact we’d just come from Jumper land! C was happy, I was happy, and that’s what mattered. It was a great feeling to get out of the heat that night, I can say that much!

Our Sunday jumper rounds were even better then the previous days. In our Open .85, Willard decided to have a good long look at jump 6- so long that he forgot to jump it the first time. This provided us with a great set up for our JA round right after, as it was over the same course. That round was perfect, except for a lazy rail early in the course. Click here to watch it. I decided to drop our Open Low Hunter that day, because it was so hot (+40 degrees, crazy humid, and zero wind), and I could feel my horse’s energy (and mine) starting to dwindle. I wanted to save something for the $500 Hunter Derby later on that day. It was so hot my sunglasses would fog up while I was wearing them. I would be able to cross competing in a sauna off my bucket list, if it had been on there in the first place.

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So, finally came time for the Derby to get started. As myself, a fellow McMullan teammate, and M&C were walking the course- I was informed that I had been misinformed earlier and the class was a sign up order of go (I thought it was posted order, in which case I was in 5th). Since I hadn’t signed up they had listed me as first to go, and were taking no excuses- if I wasn’t at ringside, with my horse (who was still in the barn, untacked) in 7 mintues then I would be disqualified. I am blessed with amazing teammates on my side. Megg and Lauren sprinted ahead of me to the barn and by the time I had also completed the ~1000m sprint (thank god I’ve been doing interval training this year) my horse was ready to go. I had time to just barely take a couple warm up jumps and get to the ring, where M&C instructed me to gallop into the gate (not usually hunter style) and gallop straight to the first jump, which was about 50m inside the gate. So, that’s what we did. The video unfortunately missed the first couple jumps- but the rest was caught- it’s definitely worth a watch!

No time for any second thoughts, we had one of the best rounds I’ve ever ridden. My horse left it all out there for me, and I could not have asked him for anything more. As we came over the last combination, a two stride, I couldn’t contain my smile- and it was so cool to have everyone at ring side burst into cheers. We achieved a score of 88/100 that round, a personal best! After the class of 10 finished- all very competitive rounds, we ended up 4th. Another personal best for us when it comes to special, classic, or derby classes. If there is a way to end a season, that was it!

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So what else have I been doing in this heat wave? Since getting home from the show on Sunday, I’ve been spending my mornings at football practices taping ankles, thumbs, and fingers, covering blisters, abrasions, lacerations, and assessing injuries. Oh, and learning. So much learning. I’m learning quickly to trust my instincts when it comes to this stuff, and more often then not they lead me in the right direction. Classes begin next week, and I’m pretty ready to get back into things. This year is going to be one giant challenge, but I’m excited to take it on. The other thing I’ve been doing a lot of this week is writing- obviously not on here, but a lot of it stemmed from topics I have covered here. One piece was for a scholarship entry, another an article for Horse Country on the EC Hunter Classic, and one more piece as a writing contest entry- all focused around how riding has impacted me in one way or another.

Other events happening next week, my first time covering (or being at really) a football game. In Brandon of all places. From what I’ve heard game days are pretty crazy, but if there is one thing I’m good at- it’s crazy. But, right now, I’m heading into a long weekend. I had the entire afternoon to myself yesterday- which I spent going for a ride with Lauren at the barn (I’m going to miss those this winter!), then with my old friend Netflix at my dad’s. Today I had the entire day to do exactly nothing, and I’m just about to head for another ride while my horse is still this close to me. He moves home tomorrow, where I’ll only be able to hack now and then when I’m out that way and time allows. Sad face. Saturday I do my one work shift for the weekend and then more freedom until Tuesday. I have no solid plans for those days- which is a new concept for my over scheduling brain- but I’m also looking forward to have some time to just chill out before the crazy train hits my life next week.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Momentum

First of all, I am so happy with this weekend. Second, I’m still coming down from the “horse-show high” so if this post is a little scatter-brained, forgive me. Third, it’s a long one. I neglected to write down thoughts for each day- sooo I’m combining them all into one. You’ll be okay. Take breaks if you need to (I took about 3 to write this post).

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Let’s start with Friday. Warm-ups on Friday were great! It was our first time in the outdoor rings at Brandon, as well as our first outdoor experience (showing and training) since August 2012. So, it would be natural to expect a little bit of a gong show. However, Willard was impressively more chill than I expected him to be. Yes, we were excited. And yes we had a little bit of a motor, BUT, we were controllable and willing to participate in common sense. The deep sand footing helped, I’m sure, keep the shenanigans down. We discovered quickly while galloping around that the ring was unique in that in had slight uphills and downhills throughout. It added a cool challenge to courses over the weekend as you needed to plan for those changes- some lines would ride tighter or longer- and singles could come up pretty quick on the downhill if you weren’t careful. That, along side the deep footing, were a variable in the number of rails throughout the riders this weekend.  I must say though, Will loved the footing. He’s always been a sand horse, but he felt amazing in this ring.

We actually had two warm-ups on Friday. As I was hacking him around in the warm-up ring, M called me over to the main ring and popped me over some smaller jumps- mainly trotting in and calm canter out- just to see how he was going to handle life in general. After about 40 minutes of that he told me to go back to the barn and get C, and let her know that I was ready to do some real work now. C, surprised I had already done some jumping, worked us for at least another 40 minutes- this time doing the usual schooling of cantering to everything and working around a full course. Here is where I started to feel great in the tack. The added challenges of the slanty-uphill-downhill ring made rider effectiveness imperitive to success. Coming into the diagonal line up the centre? Left leg, left leg, left leg. Otherwise the slight uphill with the left slant drags you out and your line to the in jump gets blurry- causing rails either in or out (which we learned the hard way a few times). This year so far as been new for me in that I can actually be more effective in those ways. I can think my way through a course while riding it, and control my aides appropriately. Before it all became kind of a blur. Mentally and physically I feel like I’ve broken into a new dimension. And I like it.

Saturday.

IMG_2991It was a little bit chilly…

This was one of those days where you just had to laugh. Being the nineteenth class in, the morning was a lot of.. well not a lot of much actually. Trying to stay warm. We went for breakfast at a nearby bakery (which was somewhat torture for me.. smell of freshly baked cinnamon buns when you can’t have any?) and then us hunters braided and finally it was time to go. Our first two hunter rounds, Willard had his motor running at high speed and we were a little bit too keen. However, they were good schooling rounds and by the time the Classic came along we were a little bit more chilled about things. We rode the Classic at 3ft and had a really good round, with an unfortunate rail at the second jump. Because of this our score was dropped under 50 and we didn’t make the call-back round- however I was perfectly fine with this as it just felt so good to be on our rhythm again. Rails happen. Especially at the first outdoor show of the year in deep, new, footing.

Here is our Classic round <—Click there.

Now it was time for the jumpers. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous. Or excited. I was. Just a little. Enough to cause me to attempt to put my gloves on the wrong hands.. M was questioning my sanity, hands down. My horse was also feeling some of that. Also a little confused as to why we were back in the ring and why there were so many new and exciting jumps this time.  We worked our way down to the first jump, a oxer with white rails on top and a plank with colourful “bubbles” on the bottom. Annnnnnd we stopped 3 strides out, Willard was a bit surprised by this new and odd looking thing in front of him. No worries. With a good snort, and a small tap beside my leg with my stick,  we galloped around again and this time I was able to convince (tell) him that jumping over the scary bubbles was a good plan. After this we had a nice forward pace around to the vertical bricks on the diagonal five strides to the  red and white planks out. Around again to the green oxer five strides to a one-stride out combination. This is where Willard needed to test the effectiveness gravity, and the distance a 160lb rider could fly before succumbing to the forces acting. Luckily the jump standard caught me. I must say I’ve developed cat like reflexes in the air. I came out of that with only a beautiful bruise on my thumb from trying to hug the standard as I collided with it.  Still 14IMG_2998

So that was a bit disappointing. Well, more so frustrating. Mostly because it was almost entirely outside of my control. We had the perfect distance and I was riding well. Nobody saw the abrupt change of pace coming, if you watch the video (which is hilarious- mostly because of my mom’s comments throughout) you’d also be surprised to see my flying through the air as if that was the plan. The theory I’ve come up with is that he was just a little surprised at how much fun he was having and his excitement took over his brain causing a system overload (side effect of being a thoroughbred…). As much as I was frustrated and disappointed.. and as usual, my brain was involuntarily making my tear ducts open. I was greeted at the out gate by the most amazing group of people. M and C, as well as the rest of the McMullan team. They helped me not only reassure myself and my bruised confidence- but also laugh it off. Because what else can you do, really. Especially when M puts his hands on your shoulders, looks you straight in eyes, and introduces you to the “McMullan rule”… “It’s not acceptable to come out of the jumper ring with tears, unless you’re hurt. Otherwise I send you back to the hunter ring”. I wonder if laughing and crying is an exception… Anyways, no time later it wasn’t frustrating anymore, it was just an experience that was actually more funny than anything. It would be no fun if things went perfectly every time. Horses keep us humble, right?

That evening a few of us headed to a local restaurant called Komfort Kitchen- which I highly recommend! A nice wind-down from the day, and a reminder of how far things have come and what the potential is for the future. That was a lot of the atmosphere for the weekend, actually. Which is exactly how a competition should feel.

Sunday. Oh, Sunday. I loved Sunday.

Because of our projectile debut in jumpers the day before, I dropped down a level into the 2’6 class for Sunday. As much as I wanted to stay at 2’9, this was a fantastic choice for confidence building. Jumpers came first thing Sunday morning, and the course was only slightly changed from the day before- with the same first three fences. Which was nice, as we already had confidence over those three. This time, things were a little less new (although just as exciting). Coming up to the first jump there was a fair amount of Will saying “uhhh I was scared of this yesterday.. maybe I should also be scared of it now?” and me saying “nope. Get over it.” and him actually responding in a positive manner. This was the theme for the rest of the course. Coming into the combination that ended us the day before, this time it was further into the course, I rode it exactly the same in and set him up nicely- thankfully this time there was no questions asked and no gravity checks. We earned a second place in that class!

IMG_2990Our first official jumper ring ribbon!

Our hunter rounds that day were also quite good. The first, was a little bit quick- Willard’s motor was still running on high from the jumper round earlier that day. So in between we did trot laps of the warm-up ring. By the time we went in for our final class of the weekend, the 3ft stake class, the motor was a little more settled and we put in a nice clean round which earned us a 3rd beneath some great rounds by two other McMullan riders. It was a great way to end off a fantastic weekend!

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One of the most exciting things for me was actually getting to feel strong and effective in the tack and not  hurt. Anywhere. Also, not constantly be thinking about when the hurt is going to come back. It’s amazing how effortless things get when you aren’t trying to compensate for anything. You can actually ride. You can stay positive- both physically and mentally. All the work I’ve done inching my body towards health and strength these past years is really starting to show. I’m in the best shape of my life, and starting what looks to be a new era as an pain-free athlete. FINALLY. I am starting to build a trust in myself that wasn’t always there before, which is only helping my skills in the saddle.

I also survived on my new eating habits. I’m no longer a cheap date (not sure I ever was, to be honest), as often the only thing I can eat on the menu at many restaurants now is steak (love it). I’ve also found that I’m craving things I used to really not like. Tomatoes for one. And grilled shrimp. It’s really odd to all of a sudden just want something you’ve been disgusted by for most of your life. However, the body generally knows what it needs so I’m going to trust that logic.

So there you go. A pretty thorough play-by-play of my weekend. I’ll post the videos of my hunter rounds from Sunday once I can, and hopefully some pictures as well! Unfortunately mom was so excited about my jumper round she forgot to video tape it. But, there will be more of those. M has said, in his way, that I did well enough this weekend that he will keep me around for the next show. The momentum we’re building is taking us in a new and exciting direction. The highs and the lows are teaching us more about each other, and me more about myself. It’s been years of baby steps- but all the little things are starting to add up.  We learned so much at this show, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

945040_10151692181008086_2016810418_nFocus on your goals and believe in your actions. Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action. 

 

2 days to go

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Willard’s face as he sees me eating HIS apple.

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“I did that one stride like a champ.. and this is how you reward me?!” I know.. I’m a jerk.

Had a fantastic lesson with M&C tonight. Which is exactly what I needed coming up to Wheat City this weekend. I am really starting to get a hang of this whole riding thing, it seems. I’ve never felt stronger in the tack, and my legs stay where they need to be and find the distances for me. We even did a one stride tonight, to finish off. One strides used to be a terrifying thing for me, but I realized tonight that I really don’t have anything to fear anymore. As long as I support my horse, he will get me out of there. For the most part, tonight, I was probably overriding through the combo. The thing is though, you’re moving so fast that you don’t even have time to think about things as they happen. The two main thoughts for me were, okay- legs on, shoulders back, jump in- one- out. After take off of the first jump, there are no thoughts. Only rhythm. Which is what my last post was themed around. Tonight really came down to just that, all over again. Getting to that first jump with a rhythm- everything else is taken care of after that. There is nothing you can think in that period of time to fix anything. Leading up to the vertical in was C’s voice creating a pace “da dum da dum da dum” as she does, and all I could hear past that was hooves leaving the ground- silence- one stride- silence- and landing. It’s nice to not have to think so hard about everything. It’s even nicer to feel a more concrete trust forming between me and myself regarding my ability to not slip into bad habits and not let old fears take over.

Progress, I love it!

I also have to say that my horse is still managing to surprise me with skill and power that just seems to keep coming year after year. He is jumping fantastic this season. So fantastic that tonight C actually stopped mid-sentence out of distraction after he took a beautiful jump over a vertical. C, speechless. That doesn’t happen often. But, I’ll stop bragging about my horse now…

The evening ended with M saying “You’re getting good at this.” and then “If you keep riding like this we might let you ride jumpers more often!”. Now if that’s not encouraging (especially for those of you who know M), I don’t know what is.